A Family Affair #rsv25

It was evident how much planning went into the Rodney Strong Silver Anniversary long before it even began.  We were given “teasers” at the dinner in Solvang.  As the preparations were made, the details were made public on Social Media.  A month before, I was asked to “live report” from the event.  Two weeks before, social media accounts were put in place for the guest reporters, and the week of the event there was the conference call.  I knew going into the event that it was going to be incredibly organized and meticulously planned.

The venue was one of the top restaurants in Austin.  The chefs were award-winning.  The food was first class and the wines were, as expected, delicious.  And yet when I reflected on the evening, those were not the details that left the biggest impression.  Don’t get me wrong, they left an impression.  But what impressed me even more was the sense of family.

There was the obvious connection, of course.  The evening was centered around celebrating 25 years of Klein family ownership.  In 1989, Tom Klein and his family knew that Rod Strong had built something special.  He knew California agriculture and he knew that there was potential in this part of Sonoma County.  So they invested in technology and equipment and in the first decade of ownership took the winery from 69,000 cases to nearly 500,000.

Production wasn’t the only area for growth.  The team expanded, as did their line.  They increased the number of Single Vineyard wines, launched Symmetry, and continually strive to create Artisan quality wines.  They care for the earth by focusing  on sustainable practices, they care for the community by giving to various organizations.  But what struck me was how they take care of their own.

In my interactions, online and in person, with their employees, I sense that the idea of “family” is not limited to blood relation.  The people of Rodney Strong are happy.  They are enthusiastic and dedicated.  That doesn’t happen by itself.  When I was initially asked to participate in the event, the invitation included my husband.  They did not just fly Wine-grower Ryan Decker out to tell us about the wines.  They flew Ryan and his wife.  That says something to me.  It says that they honor family.  It tells me that they want their employees to be fulfilled.  It says a lot about the Klein family and it says that there was much to celebrate.

And celebrate we did.  We arrived to appetizers and Sauvignon Blanc.  Toasted with Chalk Hill Chardonnay and Kombo Dashi Soup.  My husband had two servings of Tyson Cole’s King Crab (shellfish allergy) but that meant I got to focus on my personal favorite, the Russian River Pinot Noir.  The main course was Smoked beef neck and Symmetry and Brothers Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon. We finished with Chocolate Coconut meringue Tart and A True Gentleman’s Port. (see menu photo for details)

As the evening progressed, the live-feed jumped from place to place.  The venues were all quite different.  The menus unique to the chefs and locations.  But one thing remained constant.  People were joyous.  There was a levity to the photos.  Laughter, playful revelry, and a love for food wine and life were seen throughout.

An evening such as this required untold hours of planning and preparation. For the social media piece alone, this was a monstrous task (Take a look at Paul Mabry’s piece on Vintank for an idea). But it always came across as a labor of love.  People that are well cared for work well.  They are happy to go the extra mile.  That is what family does.

Thank you to Carin Oliver at Angelsmith PR for all of your work and for including me in the event.

Thank you to Rachel Voorhees for all you do and your contagious enthusiasm.

Thank you to Ryan and Nikka Decker for a lovely evening.  You are a great public speaker in a tough environment and your grapes do wonders!

Finally, thank you, Klein family, for making this event happen and for allowing me the opportunity to meet and work with these amazing people.  Keep up the good work!

For more information on the event, search #rsv25 for all of the great photos and tweets from the evening.

{I was reporting this event on Twitter for Rodney Strong and was given entrance as compensation.  These thoughts and opinions are my own.}

 

Around the World in 80 wines-Tour de Vin

The sky was not all that was pouring in Austin on Thursday night.  The 12th annual Tour de Vin sponsored by The Wine and Food Foundation of Texas at The W Hotel in Austin.  Guests enjoyed dozens of wines and food from some of Austin’s finest restaurants.

Navigating this much yum in one evening can be challenging.  It is easy to find that your palate is shot and your belly is full before you even get around the room.  It is even easier to realize at the end of the night that you missed a golden opportunity to sample a hard to find wine or hard to get into restaurant.  This time I went in with a plan.  No tasting, no sampling until I made the rounds.  Ok, almost not tasting.  When you see this sign at an entrance, you can’t walk by.  Nearly all good evenings begin with bubbles.

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I perused the offerings, snapping pictures before the crowds began.  The last booth?  A soon-to-be-opening restaurant, Vox Table.  Their offering of Cured Cobia with a curry pipette cum skewer was one of the most interesting and tasty bites of the evening.  A great way to amuse my bouche.

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The other highlights, as far as food, were the Beef Tartare from Searsucker, The Goat and Tomatillo stew from Cafe Josie, the I.O. Lamb pastrami from Bonneville, and the Pork Rillette with pickled peach from the new chef at Bess Bistro, Roman Murphy.

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The title of this piece is not a misnomer.  There were 80 wines being poured that night, but my rule is to only taste what is new to me.  There was a lot of great wine there, but some from such established, classic brands that I knew I would have another chance to taste.  Without a spit cup and with the car keys, I needed to be conservative with the wines.  I am sure there were several gems that I missed, but of those I tasted, I will look for more of the following:

Domaine de la Villaudiere Sancerre (currently obsessed with the Loire Valley)

13 Au Contraire Pinot Noir (Healdsburg)

12 Castello di Fonterutoli Super Tuscan

Schramsberg Brut and Rose

A series of Single vineyard Malbecs from Argentina (of which I somehow managed to NOT get the paperwork or a photo)

That’s the danger of events like these.  You start in the most professional of mindsets.  Work before play.  Document, document, document.  Next thing you know you are chatting with friends, making new contacts.  You get lost in a glass bubbles and the professional hat gets lost in all the fun.  It’s a tough gig.

Thank you, Wine and Food Foundation, for allowing me to be your guest Thursday.  Thank you for all you do to promote wine, food, and fun here in Austin.  And if anyone has the info on those Malbecs, please pass them along.  I look forward to the next big event, Big Reds and Bubbles.  Cheers!

**{I received a media pass for this event but was given no other compensation.  The thoughts and opinions are my own}

 

 

 

4 Cities, 5 Chefs, and 6 Wines #rsv25

On Saturday September 20th, I’ll be dusting off my cocktail attire for a one of a kind evening at Uchi.  As part of the James Beard Foundation’s Celebrity Chef Tour, Rodney Strong Vineyards will be hosting a four city, five course dinner to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Klein family ownership. rsv25

Chefs in Austin, Miami, New York City, and Healdsburg, CA will simultaneously be creating their unique brand of cuisine to pair with Rodney Strong wines.  Each city will have a host and a live video food to connect each experience.  We will be joined by radio show host, Ziggy the Wine Girl.   I am honored to be participating by documenting the event on social media.  So even if you can’t join us in one of the cities, you can open a bottle of Rodney Strong, or six, and enjoy the evening vicariously.

If you are able to join us here in Austin, here is a little more of what you can expect.

Celebrity chefs:

Tyson Cole, Uchi & Uchiko, Austin, TX
Jeff Mall, Zin Restaurant & Wine Bar, Healdsburg, CA
James Robert, Fixe, Austin, TX
Tatsu Aikawa, Ramen Tatsu-Ya, Austin TX
Janina O’Leary, laV, Austin TX

Rodney Strong wines:

2013 Rodney Strong Charlotte’s Home Sauvignon Blanc
2012 Rodney Strong Chalk Hill Chardonnay
2012 Rodney Strong Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
2011 Rodney Strong Symmetry (Red Meritage), Alexander Valley
2010 Rodney Strong Brother Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley
2008 Rodney Strong A True Gentleman’s Port

I was able to get a sneak peek of what to expect at a Rodney Strong dinner sponsored in Solvang before the Wine Bloggers Conference and I can guarantee that this will be a night to remember.  Tickets are $225 and can be purchased online or join us using #rsv25 or @sahmmelier.

 

Forming a Theory with Help from Mia Wines

I may have a cure for the Texas Hill Country drought.  It requires wine, food, wonderful people, and a great deal of planning, but if we work together, I think we can pull this off.  So far, I am two for two on the Wine event:Torrential rainstorm ratio.  Last month, after the Dry Creek event, I couldn’t see ten feet in front of me, even going 10 mph.  I avoided highways, prayed, and made it safely, but the lakes rose.  On Thursday, I went to a party at a private home to launch Mia wines, the new line from Freixenet, and we rushed home followed by tornado warnings and downpours.  Coincidence?  You decide.

This was not just any home.  This was one of the most beautiful private homes I have been in.  High above Lady Bird Lake, the views to the right were of the river winding past the downtown skyline, to the left, Red Bud Isle and Lake Austin.  The home had been recently purchased and redesigned by Mark Ashby Design.  The home was contemporary, sleek, yet comfortable and inviting.  That can be a difficult balance to strike; Mark and his team did so with an incredible eye for both subtle and dramatic details.

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As guests arrived, tapas were passed.  With the Spanish wines, Spanish fare was a given.  Eva Bertran of Freixenet and Daniel Olivella of Barlata have a friendship which has spanned decades, so even on his birthday, he provided a beautiful spread.  Crostini with Octopus and fennel, Iberica and micro greens, Chorizo, prawns, and wild mushroom with pine nuts.  Again, I cursed this shellfish allergy, but what I could have was delicious.  My husband oohed and aahed and claimed it was the best paella he’s had.  I have never seen a Paella pan like the Paella pans Chef Olivella had at this party.   What came out of them had to be fantastic.

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Gloria Collell is from a family of wine entrepreneurs so it is no surprise that the lure of enology trumped the lure of law school.  She has been with the Ferrer family, owners of Freixenet, for years and felt the next move should be into easy-drinking, food-friendly wines.  She wanted them to be approachable and festive.  She wanted them to capture the essence of Barcelona and be at an accessible price point.  Gloria has achieved what she set out to do.  These are perfect party wines.

The Mia line currently consists of five wines: white, rose, red, sparkling, and sparkling rose. The whites and pinks are low in alcohol with a level of sweetness.  They are all fermented in steel to retain the fresh, bright flavors.  The grapes are quintessentially Spanish.  The labels boast a colorful mosaic, a perfect representation of the wine.

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Mia’s white blend consists of Macabeo, Xarel-lo, Moscato, and Parellada.  Bright blossoms, tropical fruits, and honey.  The rose was my favorite and new grapes for me, Bobal and Sumoli.  Subtle red fruit, floral notes, a great food wine.  The red was, of course, Tempranillo.  Red and black fruit, spice and earth.  Both sparklings are Moscatos.  She suggests pairing the white with rich cheeses or dessert.  The rose has a 2% addition of Tempranillo which changes the wine immensely.  It balances the sweetness and would be perfect with berries and chocolate.

As The Brew played, the sun set, and in the distance, thunder clouds began to roll in.  It did not stop the band from hitting every note.  In fact, that could also be said about Janet Kafka and her team.  Every detail was well executed; the setting could not have been more captivating.  The hosts were gracious and inviting and the service was top-notch.  The food and wine sang of Barcelona, with casual, colorful elegance.

To test a theory, one need to evaluate in several controlled settings.  There needs to be a consistency in the elements, careful observation.   Now, I’m not saying that there is a definite correlation between the great food and wine events and the storms, but it is something I am willing to offer my services as a test subject, repeatedly if necessary.

Many thanks to Janet Kafka and team, Mark Ashby, Daniel Olivella, Gloria Collell, and everyone that made the evening possible.

I was invited to the event as media but received no additional compensation.  The thoughts and opinions are my own.

 

 

South A. Welcomes South A.

20131029-102802.jpgA few weeks ago I told you about a South African Pinotage that I blew my socks off. It was my first piece for Wine Savvy so you may have missed it but the experience whet my appetite for South African wines. This past Sunday, Wines of South Africa held a Braai and wine tasting to benefit the Amala Foundation. Held in the new venue, Vuka, in South Austin, the atmosphere was friendly and casual, approachable and diverse, just like the wines.

The organization is currently doing a US tour to showcase the wines and the changes being made in the industry, socially and environmentally. There were about 25 wines being poured and a few stations with nibbles: ostrich burgers, chicken skewers, etc. Because I was there on a mission, I only tried a little of the food, but what I tried was tasty. I had more important things to taste.

I had sampled some of the wines at previous events so I tried to stick to the new labels. I came away with two clear favorites. The main varieties being poured were Chenin and Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, and Pinotage with a few classics thrown in. If you are one that sticks with what you know, I would recommend checking out the Passages label. They were pouring a Chardonnay, a Merlot, and a Cab/Merlot blend. I preferred the bookends in the list but they were all good values around $15.

If you are adventurous, I highly recommend the Bellingham wines. The two being poured were very different, in every way, but my two favorites of the day. The Bellingham Citrus Grove Chenin Blanc was a great value at about $12. Bright citrus, tropical notes, easy drinking. The Bellingham Bernard Series SMV was a beautiful blend of Syrah and Mourvedre, softened with Viognier. Really versatile and smooth with floral red fruits and enough spice to give it weight. It could easily be quaffed alone or with a variety of foods. At $30 it is one of the higher end wines, but worth it. Both wines are available at Whole Foods.

If you are looking for some others to try, I also enjoyed the Stellar Organics Pinotage and Extra Dry Sparkling, both ridiculous values at $11. Also, check out the Mulderbosch Rose and Sauvignon Blanc. Tasty.

Usually at wine events I see a few people I know. These were new faces. These were happy faces. The wines of South Africa may not be well-known yet, but I see that changing. The quality for the price point is attractive, especially for those just experimenting with wines. The wines were easy to drink and easy to share. I’ll always drink to that. Cheers!

The Wine World’s a Buzz…

And if your tolerance is like mine these days, in more ways than one.  This is the time of year when there is one event after the other.  The calendar is getting crowded, overlapping even, and I need to pick and choose.  There are a few events coming up in the next month that are worth highlighting.  Some are local, some virtual, all sound fabulous.

Tomorrow night I will be participating in the Finger Lakes Wine Virtual Tasting.  This region is pretty hot right now.  “White hot,” you might say.   They are already getting international attention for their Riesling; we will be diving into some other whites.   I’ve participated in two other events like this.  Always fun.  Join us on twitter at 8 eastern,  #flxwinevt.  Here’s a list of what we will be tasting:

Hosmer Winery              2012 Chardonnay

Fulkerson Winery          2012 Gruner Veltliner

Lakewood Vineyards     2012 Pinot Gris

Villa Bellangelo               2012 Gewürztraminer

Knapp Winery 2012       Dry Gewürztraminer

Keuka Spring Vineyards    2012 Gewürztraminer

On Sunday the 20th at 2pm is the Gusto Blind Tasting at Barley Swine.  I haven’t been in a while but it is a great way to spend an afternoon.  Highly recommended.  Hoping I can swing it this month.

The following Sunday, October 27th from 3-6pm is the Wines Of South Africa – USA Braai Tour 2013/2014 event benefiting Amala Foundation at VUKA (411 Monroe Street West).  Tickets are $20 for unlimited Braai, South African barbeque and wine.  There is some great wine coming out of South Africa.  In fact, my first piece for Wine Savvy highlighted a South African Pinotage that I loved.  I am really trying to make this one.  Even if you don’t live in Austin, you can hit this event when it come to LA the following week.  Tickets are available now at austinbraai.eventbrite.com.

Also on the casual and fabulous list is the Austin Food and Wine Alliance’s 3rd Annual Wine and Swine Pig Roast out at Ceres Park on November 10th.  With that many amazing chefs and that much wine, you better bring your appetites and a driver.  Again, already a calendar conflict but I’m going to try to figure out a way to get out there.

Finally, I have to mention the 11th Annual Big Reds and Bubbles events.  I first found out about it two years ago.  I haven’t been able to make it yet.  I told my husband THIS year we are going.  He agreed.  I got the press release the following day and found out that it is on his birthday.  WHAT?!?  Of all days.  I still may be able to talk him into spending his big day in a suit.  I’m sure going to try.  Even if I can’t make it, you can.  I’ll sip vicariously.  Here are the details:

·        What: 11th Annual Big Reds & Bubbles

·        When: 6:30-9:30 p.m. Thursday, November 7, 2013

·        Where: The Driskill Hotel, 604 Brazos St, Austin, TX 78701

·        How: www.winefoodfoundation.org

·        Tickets: $85 Foundation Members; $100 General Admission

“Simi”lar stories, Fabulous Pairings

They have similar backgrounds and similar goals, so it is not surprising that Simi Winery and Chef Kolin Vazzoler make a great pair.  Both from Italian heritage, the winery and Chef Kolin focus on producing high quality wines and foods that are sourced locally.  Kolin learned about the culinary arts from his mother and grandmother.  Now he teaches others in the industry about pairing the Simi wines and mentors those new to the profession.

kolinI had the opportunity to talk with Kolin yesterday at the Austin Food and Wine Festival.  Kolin grew up in British Columbia where he earned his culinary certification and began his career.  He moved to San Francisco to work with Gary Danko and spent eight years honing his skills in the city before heading to Healdsburg to work at Simi Winery.

I asked him how working at a winery differs from the restaurant world.  If you’ve spent any time in the industry you know that the hours can be daunting, so that is one benefit the winery offers.  In a restaurant, the chef creates the dish and then you seek out the wine that will work best with the food.  At the winery, the opposite holds true.  He is creating a dish that will best highlight the wine.  In the creative process, adjustments often have to be made, but Kolin has learned a few tricks that we can easily apply.  For example, if the wine is coming across “hot,” add some acid, lemon or salt.  If the wine seems to be falling flat, add savory notes, herbs perhaps.

appeAt the festival, Kolin was pairing the 2010 Sonoma County Pinot Noir with Crispy Chicken Skin, Mushroom Purée, and Dried Cherry.  And what a pairing it was.  The mushroom puree accented the earthy notes in the wine.  The dried cherry echoed the red fruits and the ginger salt highlighted the spice.  Delicious.

So what food and wine combinations have surprised Kolin?  He now enjoys pairing seafood with reds.  Catalan stew, Cioppino, Acqua Pazza all have ingredients which create depth and spice and they need something heavier, spicier to compliment the dish.

And what is his current favorite pairing with the Simi wines?  The Landslide Cabernet Sauvignon is both bright and rich.  Great fruit is balanced by fresh earthy notes.  Full, but not heavy, he enjoys pairing this wine with one of their specialty pizzas with charred radicchio and gorgonzola.  Yum.

My brother is also a chef in the Bay area and about the same age as Kolin.  I’ve watched him go from creating complicated, multi-ingredient works of art to a much simpler approach.  Find good food, in season, locally sourced and you don’t need to do much to it.  The food speaks for itself.  Your job is to find the combinations that work well together and let the natural beauty of the food shine.  From talking with Kolin, it is apparent that he has gone through a similar transition.  Eat what is available, fresh.  Play with it, but keep it simple.  Returning to his roots, this style of cooking is a natural fit for Kolin.

Although the restaurant is not generally open to the public, they do have private events and are working to make his dishes more accessible.  During summer weekends, pizzas and other rustic Italian fare are available.  They are looking into creating dishes to be enjoyed at home and “pop-up” dinners as well.  If you can’t make it to Healdsburg, Simi Wines are readily available and Chef Kolin has shared many of the recipes for his favorite pairings on the website.  Now to find the time to execute them…Cheers!

Disclaimer: I was provided with a pass to the Austin Food and Wine Festival in order to write this piece.  The opinions and thoughts are my own.

Cabernet Showdown

On the last Tuesday of every month, the Texas Wine and Food Consortium hosts a good old-fashioned duel.  While there may not be a definitive winner, there is definitely a good time had by all.  Gusto Tastings Sommeliers, Daniel Kelada and Oscar Montes-Iga choose a grape and draw a line between producers from all over the world and those in Texas.   We get to enjoy the battle.

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I previously attended the tastings in which we looked at Viognier and Tempranillo, both grapes that do very well in the Texas climate.  This month, Cabernet Sauvignon was the star of the show.  I will admit that I had my doubts.  After all, how well can Cab really do here?  Denise Clarke, shared my skepticism and chose to taste blindly.  I think we were both surprised by the evening. 

As with each of the competitions, the evening was divided into four flights: Old World, New World, Texas, and then a vertical tasting of a Texas wine.  This month, Becker Vineyards provided the vertical tasting.

For the Old World tasting, we had two French and one Israeli wine.  For the New World flight, we tasted Washington, Chile, Napa, and South Africa.  We then moved to nine Texas wines and the vertical flight.

Tasting this many wines can be a funny thing.  My palate begins to fade.  I can taste through a flight and think I know which one I prefer.  Taste them again, and it becomes less clear.  As a wine opens it changes.  Have a snack, it changes again.  If you asked me which wine was my favorite, I would also have to ask, “With food or without?”  And if you asked the person next to me, there may be very little overlap in the list of favorites. 

Some of my tasting notes of the evening included the classic terms such as, “cherry, leather, tobacco, greens.” And then there were some less common descriptors: “dill pickle, green pepper with cherry on top, cream soda, tomato leaf.”

Some personal highlights included:

Le Relais De Dufort-Vivens, Margaux, Grand Vin, 2009 (classic notes, Bing cherry, tobacco)

Marques de Casa Concha, Puento Alto, 2010 (Less classic but friendly, cherry cola, Eucalyptus, Green tomato leaf)

Flat Creek, Texas High Plains, Newsome Vineyard, Reserve 2010 (Big, impressive, yet subtle fruit, cherry, and greens)

The Vineyard at Florence, Williamson County, ‘Veritas’ 2010 (huge sour cherry and berry blend)

Becker Vineyard, Texas High Plains, Canada Family Vineyards, 2007 (elegant nose, hazelnut and cranberry, some vegetative notes)

Becker Vineyard, Texas High Plains, Canada Family Vineyards, 2009 (earth, leather, fruit, surprising elegant for age)

Becker Vineyard Claret 2011 (drought year so concentrated fruit, bright sour cherry, some green, cocoa)

As an encore, Tim Drake of Flat Creek Estate, decided to finish the evening with something very special.  He opened a 2002 Flat Creek Cab that was amazing.  If there was any question about whether Texas can do Cab, more importantly, a Cab that can age, Flat Creek gave us the answer. 

So who was the winner?  Well, there is no clear answer to such a subjective question, but you can judge for yourself.  Next month’s tasting will look at Tannat and will be featuring wines from Bending Branch.  In April, Texas Wine and Food Consortium will bring us fortified wines (port, Sherry, Madeira) with Haak winery.  Upcoming tastings will feature Roussane, Rose, Red Blends, White Blends, Merlot, Malbec , and Sangiovese.

For more information on these tastings, contact Daniel Kelada.

 This piece was originally written for and posted on Texas Wine and Trail

Wines

Thanks, Giving, and Connection

At this time of year, many of us are rushing around, trying to decide on the perfect appetizer,on table settings and decor, and pairing wines that will fit the budget but still impress our guests. And some are trying to figure out where they will get their next meal. Or how to pay the electric bill. Or wishing they had an electric bill to pay. Between the destruction in the wake of the hurricane and the current unemployment across the country, the needs we see around us can be overwhelming. How can we help? How can we possibly make a difference when the need is everywhere and so much bigger than us?

Fourteen years ago, there was one man, in a dark place, with no home and very little in his pocket. He saw a family and recognized a need. A need he deemed greater than his, and he chose to do something. With the last of his money, he went to the store to pull together what he could to give the family a meal on Thanksgiving. When he returned, they were gone, so he distributed the food to others. One man, one meal, and a giving heart.

Flash forward to 2010. I am proud to say that man became my Brother-in-law and that act of kindness has become Gobble, Gobble, Give. The man who chose to give, when he had nothing to give, increased his efforts. Healthy, happy, and successful by any measure, he continues to build, continues to give. What began as one man and one meal grew to an organization with groups in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas, and NYC. An organization that fed 5,000 people that year.

Here is an excerpt of a letter I wrote to him in 2010 (shared with permission):

“Growing up, there are several Bible stories that are the staples. You hear them over and over again. Some have impact, but most, I think don’t get really processed until later in life, when you have the ability to see things in a new light. One of those stories is about how Jesus takes a boy’s lunch, multiplies the bread and fish, and is able to feed a hungry crowd of 5000.

I had heard it many times, but I didn’t process it until I heard your story and the results from this Thanksgiving. The miracle that was written about in Matthew seemed like just that….a miracle…nothing practical to apply in life. A one time event. But it wasn’t.

Christ took the lunch of a boy who was willing. It wasn’t much when he started, just a willingness to share what he had, but when he was finished, 5000 people ate that day. A miracle.

What you have done with Gobble, Gobble, Give is just that to me. A miracle. A compassionate heart and the willingness to help others has exploded into this HUGE thing. It is so wonderful to see. I wanted to let you know the effect it has had on me. You didn’t feed my belly, but you fed my soul. “

And so last year, we began Gobble, Gobble, Give in Austin. And this year they are adding Santa Monica. The miracle continues to grow. If you live near any of these locations, it is easy to participate and it only requires a plate of food, two hours of your morning, and your willingness to be used. If you don’t live near, your donation can help make it possible.

I am grateful for his example and for all that I have been given. I am grateful for the chance to give just a small portion of that next Thursday and throughout the year. Won’t you join us in giving others a happy Thanksgiving?

Discoveries from Columbus Weekend

Although some would question the political correctness of celebrating Columbus Day, few would argue about the long weekend. And a long weekend means more time to drink wine, especially enjoyable when you have been doing (mostly)dry weeks. We packed this weekend with equal parts productivity and revelry. Here are some fun discoveries.

On Wednesday, I joined Gusto Tastings at III Forks for an evening of Viognier.  Anatoli Levine, who writes Talk-A-Vino, happened to be in town so I invited him to join me. I thought it was a great opportunity to see what is going on here in the wine industry. Texas vs. The World is a comparative tasting of Old World, New World, and Texas wines. We tasted seventeen Viogniers including a vertical tasting from Flat Creek Estate. As luck would have it, we sat with the winemaker, Tim Drake and his lovely wife, Spring. It was a fantastic evening. In my opinion, Texas took this one. The 2011 Flat Creek was amazing. A glorious nose and equally impressive taste. I am also a fan of McPherson Cellars and the Brennan Vineyards. We even got to do a barrel tasting of the Flat Creek 2012 which is only six weeks in to a very promising journey.

I spent Friday and Saturday consumed in garage sale drudgery, motivated only by the fact that it was for charity. I realized that, in the future, I will likely take the path of less torture and donate both the items and some money. Needless to say, I was ready for a glass of wine at the end of the day. I had been wanting to try a sample that I recently received from Mommy Juice wines*. Great name and marketing. The white is 100% Chardonnay and the red is a blend of mostly Cab Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cab Franc, with a dash of this and that. I am a tough sell on Chardonnay, especially entry-level wines, but I really liked the red blend. It was a very nice, easy drinking wine.  Berry nose with a hint of vanilla. I tasted a lot of Bing Cherry and some brighter red fruit. At about $10, it makes a perfect Monday wine. And I know many Mommy’s that need a little juice at the end of a Monday, or Tuesday, or any day.

On Sunday, the hubs and I headed out to Flat Creek Estate for Grape Jam. The event featured wines from eight wineries and music. I love seeing the growth in the Texas wine industry. Collectively, there are some very exciting things going on here and I love trying new producers. I was introduced to new grapes like Bending Branch’s Tannat and Black Spanish grapes of Dry Comal Creek. I found some new loves in Flat Creek’s Super Texan and Pinot Blanc. More importantly, I was able to spend time with some fabulous people. I talked at length with Rick Naber, the owner, and Tim Drake, the winemaker. I came away with a better sense of the challenges and the tenacious spirit of the Texas winemaker. But that is a whole different post.

On Monday, after my man trimmed the trees, and the kids and I hauled the branches, I headed to Whole Foods for a …PIE FIGHT! The event kicked off the fundraising efforts of Les Dames E’scoffier. They have some great items up for auction. No matter where you are in the country, if you love food and wine, there is something for you. Check it out at www.austinfoodfight.org. Because my partner, Scott Calvert of The Cake Plate, and I had the most Social Media buzz (thank you!) we got to go last. We faced the reigning champion, Chef Josh Watkins and his partner Jennie Chen of Miso Hungry. I was doing pretty well at dodging and weaving, but they took us in the end. Scott was a true gentleman and took most of the hits. And speaking of hits? I hit a JUDGE. In the FACE. My thumb got stuck in the melting crust and my frisbee attempt failed miserably. Oh my goodness, I was mortified and profusely apologetic. Other than my egregious throwing error, it was a great evening.

Tonight, we are headed out again to The Taste of Kenichi, an event introducing their new Executive Chef, Richard Lee. It should be fabulous! I’ll keep you posted on the yummies. Cheers!

*Mommy Juice wine was provided as a media sample.